Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Taller Colibri and Unschooling

Thanks to a long-ago tip from my friend Hilair, I found the forums at the Mothering website and have been following and posting to the thread entitled:

What Did Your USer [unschooler] Do Today?

This practice has been informative, because I've found Taller Colibri's curriculum and daily rhythms have much in common with unschooling, but they also diverge. Some of the struggles homeschooling parents face regarding social issues and managing messes do not apply, because we have our own simple, little building in the countryside of Huayapam rather than running the school from our homes. The great benefit of this locale is the school site's outdoor options, including the property's small gardens and mud and sand pit, and then the area's trees, meadows, farms, and fields.

But it's the village's water sources that have provided endless fascination and experiments. Our group hikes to various spots on the river. The closest one goes under a stone bridge so picturesque that my husband painted it for a commission. There is an altar nearby, and the river is framed by carisso and banana plants.

Another access point has layers of dirt that make it like an archaeological dig site, with layers of old house tiles and broken dishes to discover. The banks have small indentations that make them prime spots for building cave dwellings for gnomes and fairies. But this area has become overgrown and the kids can't access it as easily.

The high river spot is a hike, but you get to cross a field frequented by burros. Here the river descends, making a small waterfall ideal for the children's temporary dams and bridges. They once used the mud and grasses here to mix with medicinal clay we got nearby and created strong, adobe-like bricks for constructions.

Lately the hikes have incorporated the reservoirs of Huayapam. The water level has stayed high, due to a longer rainy season, leaving lots of muddy shoreline to navigate. Sometimes the kids fish here, or pretend to fish, as they have yet to catch anything. They walk the banks and explore the micro-habitats formed by mud, sand, and water. Usually someone falls in for a swim.

I think I've landed on what makes for a successful school, in my mind: A curriculum that results in many changes of clothing, and dirty shoes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Road to Abastos

When Steve & I lived in Oaxaca the first time around, nearly 16 years ago, we would walk the 30-40 minutes to get to Central de Abastos, the main city market. Now, with kids in tow, we drive, and we bring many guests with us. Today we packed five friends in the car, in addition to our family, and parked at our favorite lot that gives you an hour free if you pay the guy on duty to wash your car. A great deal for us and our stinky car.

Abastos rocks year round. My friend Rachel says it's one of her favorite places in the world. I always get lost, hitting the shoes time and time again, and I never, ever am in the market for shoes (my feet are too big for Mexico). But getting lost works here, because there is something down every aisle, and I often don't know what it is when I see it. But the vendors are happy to demonstrate their wares.

This is the kind of shopping that begets more shopping because all I came for was a vinyl tablecloth printed with fruit to cover my muertos altar. But what I've wanted forever is one of those cheap little grills that look like big incense burners. And two kilos of sweet potatoes to cook on it. Next time, because my bag is already full of papel picado, incense, tangerines, avocado, coconut water, glittery bread medallions, finger monsters, a devil mask, amaranth, pumpkin seeds, and peanut candy.

At some point, you just have to stop. But I'll be back soon, as guests are arriving and we always go to Abastos right before Days of the Dead to score altar supplies and watch the throngs of people hauling sugar cane, marigolds, sweet bread shaped like skulls and crossbones, ground chocolate, sugar skulls, toys, booze--the fiestas go on for days, and so does the shopping.

But it seems trivializing to call this shopping. There are no credit cards or coupons or sliding glass doors. This kind of shopping is conversations, crowds, bargaining, sweet smells, stink, giant metal wheelbarrows nearly running you over, women balancing baskets on their heads, and ducking under the tarps set too low for gangly Americans. And jamming it all in a giant sugar bag converted into a tote. And lots of shoes, just too many shoes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get Up, Stand Up Week 2

Today begins the second week of my standing desk experiment. I love it. Crazy love it. This morning, I had to use 2 computers due to tech issues and shifted each one to the top of my table-vegetable-crate contraption rather than sit down. At this point, sitting while typing feels just plain wrong. But I still find myself trying to sit when watching my kids play at the park and other waiting-style activities, so I have to work on this.

I noticed my legs were stiff and sore today, and was tempted to blame the standing desk. But then I remembered I did (brief) plyometrics yesterday at the park--a few rounds of deep squat jumps that spiked my heart rate. And today I pay for it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Get Up, Stand Up Day 1

I've been a full-time freelance writer for over four years now. I never imagined I could sustain a full-time business and make a competitive rate, all while enjoying my work.

However, there was a problem. Making money means sitting down, and sitting kills.

I could feel it in my body, even when I exercised, even when I did interval bursts to punk music throughout the day to spike my heart rate. There was this slumping, this collapsing. I'd buzz along with my assignments and look up after 120 to 180 minutes pleased with my productivity and hourly wage and dismayed with the realization I had not moved anything more than my fingertips for the whole time period.

I had gotten wind of treadmill desks and similar inventions, in which you stand and walk at a raised desk while working. The consensus is that walking a slow one mile per hour for your workday does not impede your work tasks and can actually increase your focus and productivity.

Like any good idea, there are ways to spend a lot of pesos to implement such a system. But I can't or won't spend the money for a fancy raised desk, an adjustable desk, and a commercial-grade treadmill to create an active work station.

Instead, four hours ago, I put a vegetable crate on the kitchen table. I wrote while standing the entire time. I wasn't sure it would work for me, as I'm more likely to walk a long distance rather than stand still for a prolonged periods. But the writing captivated me enough that I actually forgot I was standing for large segments of time.

I maintained my words per hour and thus my hourly rate. After four hours in my bare feet on the tile floor I can say I feel a similar leg and foot tiredness I used to feel after a day of teaching.

I could see placing a blanket or mat under my feet to cushion them. Or how about this? Or get a little more cardio in with this?

I could also see sitting part of the day, but balancing on an exercise ball.

I'll write an update in a few days to explore this idea further and report on any complications. And so ends my first blog entry written while standing.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Surprises Beneath the Surface

Yes, Oaxaca continues to surprise me the longer I stay here, as I begin to understand the language and culture little by little. But it's the fruit and veggies I want to talk about today. This came up on my Facebook page recently, when a friend pointed out that I post rather frequently about a seemingly mundane topic--fruits and vegetables I buy.

To me, in Oaxaca, this is the least mundane of topics! Yeah, I'm vegetarian, sometimes vegan, even a certain percentage raw, but even if I was only getting my requisite 5-7 servings per day, my produce would be an object of scrutiny. Because Oaxaca has funky produce.

Take the humble ruby grapefruit, one of my daughter Geni's favorite breakfast options. Slicing it open releases lots of juice and pulp. The sections are of different widths, rather than equally divided. The taste may be intensely graprefruity or sour or watery, depending upon the season. None of this seems particularly stunning until I visit the United States in the summer and cut open a grapefruit. No mess. Little juice, little pulp. Every section equidistant. The flavor--less grapefruity, but terribly consistent. Consistent produce--unmessy, unvarying in appearance, nearly always the same flavor--does not happen in Oaxaca.

Bananas are a mystery here. Why do they turn brown so much more quickly? Why do seemingly unscathed bananas sometimes reveal themselves to be squishy with bruises once peeled? Why are bananas tiny and huge, starchy and juicy, stringy and stinky, sometimes varying within the same bunch?

You cannot eat a mango without juice spilling all over your face. It's nearly disgusting in its gorgeousness and sweetness. Green tuna fruit--how to munch through those giant seeds? Red tuna fruit staining everything. This fruit is just not practical!

There is some magic to knowing when jicama will burst in your mouth with watery sweetness as opposed to tasting like sawdust. But I do not possess that magic, not yet. My friends know which wild mushrooms make the best broth, and which others are primed for pasta sauce. I just eat and eat them, though they can be dense and kind of meaty and other times slimy and smelling like an underground tunnel where you might find Totoro.

The markets can be captivating or they can be an overpowering, overstimulating blur. Yes I want coconuts but do I have the cajones to machete them open once I get home? How to handle the free samples of lichee fruit, when the peel and the seeds just create something else for me to hold? It's all too decadent, too beautiful, too heartbreaking--how could fruit and vegetables be so different from their northern counterparts, what have these first world countries done to these treasures to homogenize them? But that's another blog post. Until then, slice it, juice it, toss it in Tajin.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hacienda Hospital

Here we sit at the brink of our fifth year in Oaxaca. It was the place I dreamed of moving to, assumed it was impossible to make a living in, and now has become home.

But I don't want everyone to think living here is all wine and roses (or mezcal and bougainvillea, to make that cliche local). I tend toward the sunny in most aspects of life, and living in Oaxaca is no different. But yesterday was a litmus test. Steve had hernia surgery at a private clinic here. When you decide to go under the knife in Mexico, you know you've made the commitment. I was nervous, even though I know that the health system has been far more personalized and accessible here. It's a cultural leap, seeing how other countries deal with medical care.

The first surprise--they said I had to spend the night in the clinic with Steve. I asked everyone I knew why this was so. They said there are no nurses, that I'm the one to judge when Steve will need painkillers or use the bathroom or whatnot.

It shocked me. And then it turned out that was wrong. There are so many nurses, and they are so attentive (keep in mind we were in a private clinic, albeit an extremely cheap one, so I cannot compare the care we had to that of patients in the IMSS public care system). We hardly got a chance to rest or sleep with their constant checking.

But there was one key thing missing at the clinic, which I came to think of as a hacienda/hotel for sick people. No nurse call button, and no phone. That was my role--to take the few steps to the nurse office (this clinic had all of five rooms, each one for one patient and a sleepover buddy) to ask for anything Steve might need.

Another interesting contrast: You have to beg to leave. There is none of the HMO-induced pushing your out of your room, or bed, though Steve really really wanted to get out of there. Again, this might have to do with being in a private clinic, though my Oaxaca friends have had long stays in the IMSS hospitals as well.

The system also tends toward over-care. They kept Steve IV tube in much longer than necessary, saying "Why not? This way he doesn't have to swallow the pain medication." I told the staff he wanted the IV out, that he'd rather swallow pills, but no go.

One last surprise--when the doctor came in to consult Steve, he first came over and kissed my cheek. Maybe because Steve knows him socially, but still such a surprise to get a full Oaxaca greeting from a doctor.

For those wondering about clinics and options in Oaxaca, I'll close with one final bit of gossip that tantalized my imagination, for no clear reason. Story has it that our clinic, which was spotless and plain, is the cheap-but-nice option, and that there is another elegant, super high-care hospital in Oaxaca where many of the fresas (yuppies) and retirees go. It would have cost us 35,000 pesos for the surgery and hospital stay rather than the 20,000 we spent (about $1,600 to $1,700). You have to wonder what the extra $15,000 buys you.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Taller Colibri Redux

We're preparing for another year at Taller Colibri!

We went out with such a bang last year, with the children building a towering Lego ramp and exploring the phenomena of force and motion.

For the upcoming year, the plans will mostly rise from the children's interests, but we have some interesting challenges up our sleeves:

* Maestra Suzanna has ordered both of the excellent math books from Marilyn Burns. She is the math guru that guided my math teaching when I worked in Oakland Public Schools. I had a curriculum, but her philosophies always spoke to me. She values integrating math with writing, reading, games, group work, and deeper critical thinking puzzles.

* We have purchased some cooperative games that will have the students working together to solve problems.

* Some students from a couple different countries plan to visit us and enroll for part of the year.

* Maestra Aerin will join us for part of the time. She is a genius at using found objects and recyclables to create sculptures and installations. This may merge with last year's unit on building labyrinths and fun houses.

* I really wanted to buy the Book of Gnomes for our gnome-hut and fairy house-building themes, but it just does not fit in my luggage! However, Suzanna is tucking a beautiful guide to children's gardening into her backpack, which will hold us until I can haul over this hefty tome.

* Back by popular demand: Our rocking field trip to the Oaxaca coast! We go in low season and often have gorgeous beaches to ourselves. We snorkel the coves of Estacahuite, swim to a hidden cave off Playa Panteon, boat the lagoons of Ventanilla, jump waves in San Agustinillo, and visit the beautiful turtles in Mazunte. For the parents, we prioritize pizza and margaritas on the beach at La Termita. Isn't school grand?

Onto another year of surprising adventures. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Sound of Silence

You could think that the title of this post referred to my seeming indifference to this blog of late, but that is not the case. First, allow me to defend myself by saying that I have spent the last months creating an old school print version of my "Have You Seen the Dog Lately?" zine, just like the lovely days of olde when Megan Tucker, Jenny Makofsky and, if we made him, Steve Lafler and I did our cut-and-paste-a-thons. The difference this time was doing the bulk of the writing, the layout, the assembling (lots of paste-ins) and the prepping-to-mail-it on my own (except when Steve helped, thanks be to holy bejeezus hallowed be his name). I'm still working on the doggie, actually.

But, no, the sound of silence refers to my visit al norte. I'm in cul-de-sac land in Santa Rosa and the silence is deafening. I guess this is what people want? I don't remember this from growing up around here, though we mostly lived in apartments back then. And a few times, I've heard people complain when they happen to hear the barest snippet of noise, of life, leaking from someone's car or backyard or whatnot. My NIA teacher, who plays world music as we spin around the room, got busted by neighbors who called the police over her noise, and she's playing mellow world music from 6pm to 7pm. Do people really not want to hear a little music floating from a dance studio?

Walking around here feels a little like zombieland, but perhaps I'm the only one who finds silence more threatening than noise. It points to a good decision we made to move to Mexico, where a little neighborhood party, processional down the street, live band in the garden, dog barking never resulted in police calls and legal threats.

What I want to know is, once you've won your 24/7 silence by raging at and alienating everybody, what are you doing with it?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teachers' Strike Follow-Up

I've spent the past couple days relaying questions to my contacts. I greatly appreciate their patience as I ask them to repeat information, clarify statements, give me examples, and share some tricky details about pay. Here are some insights parents, teachers, friends, and neighbors shared with me:

1. The Status of the Planton
Per my friends and the Oaxaca Study Action Group, the teachers will return to the classroom on Monday. The government is in negotiations with the teachers' union regarding its many demands and grievances. My teacher friends say the process is transparent and public in regard to their pay, benefits, and issues pertaining to the school. However, union officials may receive extra money that is not part of the public process.

2. Teacher Pay
Ah, the big question. According to my contacts, new public school teachers make between 200 and 250 pesos per day (the current exchange rate has that equaling $18 to $23 per day), or 4,000 to 5,000 pesos per month ($340 to $425 per month). As teachers stay in the system, they earn an extra 20 pesos per day ($1.70). Teachers work a six-hour shift, plus additional meetings, weekend obligations, training, parent meetings, etc. If they work a second shift with a second group (with each group having around 40 students in the primary grades), they get extra pay. In this case, they may work up to 12 hours per day, plus meetings. They often end up paying for classroom materials and do pay for their own photocopying costs.

3. Union Power
I asked two sources about teacher participation and potential coercion within the union. According to both sources, Section 22 is a democratic union, markedly more so than the national teachers' union with which it is associated. Every teacher gets a vote and teachers must vote pertaining decisions regarding their contracts and strikes.

4. Rich vs. Poor
I have surveyed more people regarding their opinions of the teachers and the strike. The poor and working class continue to express their support while the expatriates, tourists, and business owners are furious, just full of vitriol. One interview subject said to me, "I have never met an American that supported the teachers." An expatriate said to me, "I have never spoken with anyone that supported the teachers." Both of these comments point to the value of listening to people in the neighborhoods rather than the zocalo hotel owners, restaurant owners, parents of children in private school, and foreigners who, as one of my Oaxacan interview subjects put it, "depend on the disparity between Oaxaca's and America's economies."

Saturday, May 28, 2011


'Tis the season for the annual teacher's strike and "planton," basically a sit-in, camp-out that goes for several days in and around the zocalo. What this means, invariably, is that I get entangled in many, many arguments in May and June. It seems that many expatriates, middle-class people, tourists, and wealthy people do not support the teachers. Say what?

So this year I did my research. I went to my neighborhood public schools. I interviewed public school teachers and their children off-site. I interviewed parents of children in public school, many of whom are greatly inconvenienced by the yearly strike because it affects their work schedules. I read the fliers and the pamphlets, though not the local newspapers which I do not trust as reliable sources. I read the articles and analysis at the links in my Oaxaca Study Action Group political news group. I wanted to know what the people around me thought about the presumptions of the petit bourgeois, foreigners, politicos and so on. Here are some of the arguments. To my sources, please forgive any awkward translations of your poetic and well-reasoned Spanish and Spanglish.

Complaint 1: The teachers are well-paid already.

This one is hard for me to even stomach. Public school teachers in Oaxaca have up to 40 or 50 kids for a half-day, and many have another set for another half-day. Teachers reported having to purchase basic supplies for the classroom and using their own money for photocopying primary curricular materials. Also, from the Latin-American Herald Tribune:

"The decision to go on strike was made Saturday after SNTE Local 22 members
decided that state officials had not made satisfactory concessions in
negotiations, union leader Azael Santiago Chepi said.

The teachers plan to occupy the main plaza in Oaxaca city, the state

The union is not making any pay demands, focusing instead on educational and
social issues, Chepi said.

Teachers want better uniform allowances for students, computers in all of
the state’s elementary schools and electricity in all schools, the union
leader said.

Union members also want officials to find Carlos Rene Roman, a teacher who
disappeared on March 14, Chepi said."

Complaint 2: The teachers' union is corrupt.

Every poor and lower-middle-class Mexican I interviewed scoffed at this comment. They point their fingers at the much larger force of corruption in Oaxaca society, the PRI (which has managed to keep keys to offices, important documents, and major funds out of the hands of the new ruling party). My favorite Oaxacan anarchist echoed what my husband Steve said, "The dead bodies aren't piling up because of the teacher's union. The PRIstas were deadly."

A Oaxacan grandma added that the wealthy and politically powerful like to confuse the issues, blaming the teacher's union for skimming or causing problems when small factions that have nothing to do with the teachers are at fault. On this issue, I'm less clear because I did not understand the examples she gave. There are a lot of abbreviations in Oaxacan political lingo!

Complaint 3: The zocalo is ugly.

This complaint has many permutations, including:

The teachers hurt local businesses.
The teachers scare tourists away.
The teachers cost the city money by striking.

The people I interviewed--and I should underscore that I did not interview people who own businesses, except those who may open up their garage to sell used clothes or serve a daily meal--could give a damn regarding these issues. Oaxaca and its neighbor Chiapas are the poorest states in Mexico. When it comes down to workers (teachers) fighting for basic rights against the major political machine, my neighbors know who has their best interests at heart.

My radical anthropologist buddy had another way of putting it, "It's time to break shi* up." I agree--when you have propaganda for your mainstream journalism, a government that funds dance festivals instead of access to clean drinking water, and an entrenched wealthy class that does everything it can to maintain the status quo, where do you turn? Block the streets, sit in the zocalo, make speeches, pass out pamphlets, fight the good fight! Viva la huelga!

Monday, May 23, 2011

More Taller Colibri

I've been getting lots of messages and questions about our school project. We are definitely continuing next year, under the same excellent maestra Suzanna. This year's final project is underway. In addition to fishing, gardening, cooking, hiking and Friday field trips, the children are doing an integrated Legos unit.

We have a 40-lesson unit that combines math, science, writing and critical thinking skills to create simple machines and other constructions with Legos. In the first week, this unit was so outstandingly successful that, when I went to pick up the kids, no one moved from their places. They continued working, ignoring my reminders that the school day was over, that they could come back the next day.

On a personal level, this unit has sparked so much creativity around the house. Max found an old pirate ship model that you build from cardboard puzzle pieces and devoted three hours to consulting the instruction manual and creating a three-dimensional ship with a cabin and bridge. Genevieve has progressed in her fine motor skills from using larger Duplo blocks to using standard-sized Legos. And me, I'm a fan of the new Ninja legos. So beautiful, so timely with Kung Fu Panda II coming out.

For more snapshots of daily life at our experiential Oaxaca school, check out Steve's Taller Colibri blog.

Onto another great school year.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

41 going on 42

That way of describing an age "going on" always seems sadder when I think about Jenny. There's this expectation to it--you're going on, after all--and then she didn't. Or maybe I feel she's in constant "going on" mode, but never arriving.

Today I remembered something funny Jenny told me. She was in class and a professor made a sarcastic comment, which was met with silence. The professor said, "Well, that's a Pintoresque silence."

Jenny all-out guffawed (as those of you who know her can imagine, she was a big laugher) and repeated it for everyone's enjoyment, "Pintoresque silence!"

I doubt you'd find a Jenny character in a Harold Pintor play. Almost any other playwright would work. I like to think of her as the lead in a Greek chorus, rolling her eyes and scatting about the drama mamas onstage.

Jenny's birthday is this May 27th, going on to something, somewhere, just not where I can find her.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mental Photograph

Steve approached my last week and informed me, "We're invited to this event but...I don't know."

He explained it was the opening of a village pavilion, and that he had been invited to play music there for its inauguration.

How could I not go to this event? It sounded like something out of "Consider This Senora" or "Tales of Eva Luna." Surely a wizened old woman with streaming hair would greet us there and proceed to speak only in proverbs. There would be children playing, and lots of food, and just a tinge of melancholy because it would be too beautiful.

So we went up up and around winding dirt roads, to the hills of San Pablo Etla. The pavilion was a small hut without walls, perched on a cliff side. It turned out a group of college kids in architecture school had come for the week, met with the community, and designed and built the pavilion in collaboration with the villagers. In gratitude, the villagers had cooked everyone a feast, accompanied by bottle after unlabeled bottle of smoky mezcal.

And here's what I liked the most. Bill, the washtub bass player for the day, had gone to the village all week, teaching villagers how to play the bass. So, when the fiesta day came, Bill brought an extra washtub bass and locals took turns accompanying the band. Then, the villagers took over, playing ranchero music while Geni and I did the cumbia and merengue. Thank you, Zumba class.

I could wax on about the band cramming into the outdoor pavilion for a blues jam as the kids and college guys played soccer. How one of the guys was proud of navigating the city market and coming out with a pinata for the party. How a couple shyly asked me what was in the horchata and their eyes got wider as I listed every ingredient. How Max and one of the students got immersed in discussing the merits of a fantasy book series. How Geni and I befriended Maria and asked her about cooking on the Estufa Lorena, the same mud stove we had used at the permaculture farm.

There are times where I feel in the midst of something as opposed to on the fringe. These are rare times, for sure. I was intent on taking a mental photograph of the day so I could carry proof of life's beauty along with me always.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Taller Colibri Rocking the Permaculture

It's been half a year since we started our alternative school project, Taller Colibri. I've learned so much from my children, the other children in the project, the parents, the people we have met on the weekly field trips, and our inspirational maestra Suzanna.

The key epiphany I have had has been about momentum. Once the children understood that they owned the school and the curriculum, they stepped up. They run in with projects already in their minds, sometimes with supplies they have brought from home. They tend to the garden, they check the supply closet for art materials, they turn on the light and music for quiet time, they cook food for meals.

Some of the smaller aspects of the school have also made a deep impression on me. For example, our start time of 9:30. I can't tell you how incredible it is to not wake up my children, to allow them to get up naturally and not be tired. In the morning, we have time to eat, play, read, visit the cat, clean, whatever. Not having homework has also been so liberating. No longer do we have to chop off a significant part of the afternoon, or break it up inconveniently. We sometimes do far more educational and inspirational things than homework--play at the park, hike, cook together, read at the library, see an art show, visit friends, go to drum class--and we sometimes just hang out at the house or the zocalo. This gift of time has been powerful, even if it means sometimes wondering what to do with it when the kids are fighting or I'm not feeling like interacting.

Creating units based on the children's interests was fascinating. To look back on it makes me realize how far we have come: Force and Motion, Caves and Prehistory, Story boarding and Clay Animation, and Building with Natural Materials. Field trips to archaeological ruins, caves, swimming pools, the organic market, libraries, parks, farms, villages, history museums, art galleries. What a life.

Last week, when Maestra Suzanna suggested that Taller Colibri head up the Oaxaca mountains above Huayapam, to see a farm with permaculture farming practices, I sensed we were in for something different. The little ones had to stumble along the steep trails, but it was worth it. They delved into worm compost bins (we honestly had to pull them out of them), wandered greenhouses, looked for fish and turtles in ponds, walked through buildings framed in local carrizo, and cooked lunch on a mud and sand stove, una estufa Lorena.

That's when I realized how they already understood the place. They had mixed their own adobe at the river to create mud dwellings. They had used carrizo to frame their playhouse in the backyard. They had caught tadpoles in the river and spread compost in the garden, digging up worms to show each other. For them, permaculture was the only culture, as they had only gardened organically and built sustainably. I found they had learned more than I could have imagined, and I believe these are lessons they will carry with them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

beginnings of stories

I worry about losing Jenny, still, seven years after she died. I want to remember that feeling of having her in my life, and the luxury of taking it all for granted. She was so fiercely loyal to those she loved, and would expect the same.

What was it like, having my sister with me? She made me laugh a lot, and sing and dance at unexpected times, in unexpected places, because she really, truly wanted everyday life to feel like an episode of "Fame." Why can't we all just jump up on tables and do a show-stopping number?

So I thought of you today, Jenny, and tried to carry you with me as I danced hip hop in the park, tossed sparkly rocks into the river, walked the trails of the sustainable agriculture farm that you would have loved, and kissed my children goodnight.

It's not a fair world, this world without you. I want to rail against something, or fix something, or do something that would make these past seven years just a really touching scene from "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." A movie you would have loved.

Genevieve, who never knew you, has taken to looking at pictures of you and saying, "My auntie." Maybe there's a way to slip through the cracks and find you again, make it more than just something she says.

So I'll keep trying to evoke you.

I remember your reading Clo the cow bulletin boards on the drive to Santa Rosa.
You loved going to restaurants.
You turned down the corners of pages in catalogs, and we would laugh because you'd turn down so many, and never buy anything. Or was that me?
You sneaked into a bulldozer.
You practically sat on my feet when we did abdominal crunches.
Your love for certain products perplexed me, particularly Dryel. But I understood loving the drain catcher.
No coffee, not after the Seattle incident. Except birthday lattes.
Having the art postcard was almost as good as seeing the painting.
Bags full of envelopes, to-do lists, receipts, and the beginnings of stories.

Ah, too many stories left untold! How did we run out of time?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No skipping hip hop

When did things swerve so much toward the everyday? I am subsumed consumed by roof repairs, property taxes, immigration papers, and just keeping the house clean amidst random items falling from the roof.

One everyday thing has risen from the mundane, however. My nightly exercise class, which I never attend nightly, fascinates me. It all began three months ago when I saw a chubby guy teaching hip hop in our neighborhood park. I did some digging and found out he was associated with Oaxaca's government campaign to offer free exercise classes in public spaces. Except he wasn't, because he came after the official teacher left. He set up his boom box, stacked in reggaeton, soul, pop and retro hits, and made everyone dance like mad, for at least an hour.

The women loved him so, one night, when he burst into tears, turned off the music, and engaged in a half hour speech I could not decipher, they embraced him. They gave him change for CDs and his mototaxi to class. They congratulated him when he proudly announced he has lost 10 kilos teaching the class. And they supported him pushing me to the front of the class to help him teach, though I tried to stay in back.

So, when 2011 came but the teacher did not, the women did not want to give up on the unofficial class. Perhaps the teacher abandoned them for a paid gig, or maybe he's going to gain back those 10 kilos. All I know is that the women still show up, bringing their own boom box and their own CDs. They quibble over steps, trying to remember his routines. And, at some point, they turn to me, and ask me to come up front and lead a couple numbers. I do it willingly now, because I see how they are struggling to keep the class a class, and working together.

It inspires me beyond the endorphin rush, watching them kick ball change and grapevine and mambo and salsa and merengue. At the end of every class, they gather to guilt trip one another into coming again tomorrow, bringing a bit more resolve into those 2011 resolutions.